New Tiny Human introducing Eleanor Margot

We did a baby! Giving birth looks really hard, and my wife is a hero. The first week of Ellie's life has been a whirlwind of hospital visits, poo, sleep deprivation, and becoming besotted with a new tiny human.

Eleanor Margot Kearney, day 3

My dad was wasted when my mum went into labour with me on the evening of a big professional exam, and brutally hungover when I finally emerged 24 hours later. For Jo’s mum it was kicked off by hot Chinese food, the remainder of which her dad never had the chance to eat.

With their stories and our delivery date around Christmas I was convinced that when it was my time it would be after too many mugs of Glühwein, or following a massive post-Christmas turkey curry.

We’re good at logistics, so everything was prepared a couple of weeks earlier. We had three bags ready to go, with a plan to jump in a car-share car to drive to hospital. As long as I wasn’t drunk this was foolproof.

After an otherwise relatively straightforward pregnancy, the doctor had warned that we might expect a quick birth when it happened, and that we shouldn’t waste time in getting to the hospital. Given that, I was quietly on alert from the moment late on Boxing Day evening when Jo said she felt “a bit funny”.

Mini Jo(e) turned up a couple of days after the source of Glühwein, the Christmas markets, closed for the season, and a day before we were planning to make the curry. (We even had some proper curry paste imported from Sainsbury’s!)

The first contraction that wasn’t possible to ignore was some time around 1:30am, with Jo curling up in a ball in bed. Later there was a second, though with lots of smaller milder ones in between. “This might really be it.”

Denial set in, and the search terms “constipation or contractions” were Googled at length as the clock started ticking. Before long we bundled out of the house (“maybe I just need the loo!”) and made our way to the hospital.

A good thing too, as the first exam as we arrived at the delivery ward showed Jo already at 5-6cm dilated out of 10! I think the look on her face at that point was the moment of realisation that this was really it.

The next four hours were a blur. Of water in birthing pool, of beeps of heart rate monitors, of midwives exuding unshakeable calm. But it was totally exhausting. As it all started around midnight we had had no sleep since the previous night, and Jo was clearly suffering from it. She started having these really micro-naps, often of only 60 seconds in between contractions.

As the contractions became regular so did Jo’s reactions to them. “It’s ok, IT’S NOT OK! It’s ok. [sleeps]” The stronger ones were really strong, and it was a horrible feeling knowing it was about to come back and that there was little to do to help beyond some massage and some pressure against the muscles. And yet she didn’t need much help to get through it at all, not from me. Holding herself together through these looked a really heroic effort, again and again.

(I had naively, and only half-jokingly, been comparing the endurance of labour to a long day in the saddle. I’m not sure that quite hits the mark!)

It took me a while to realise, but some point in the birthing pool Jo had gone into this kind of trance. Everything else was blocked out (even the snacks we had brought that she’d been so careful to plan!) There weren’t many words in these hours. One of the books about giving birth even had a name for this somehow meditative state – “Labour Land” – though for me, this term conjures more than anything else the image of a party political conference in a drab convention centre in the north of England.

And all of a sudden the midwife announced that some of the head was visible.

A head coming out looks really weird. I’m not sure what I expected to see, but honestly it looked a lot more like a slimy Klingon being born than a normal-shaped human. I guess it really does all get squished on the way out! What was clear quickly was that it was a hairy one!

Now it was just a matter of some pushes. The rhythm of the contractions was really slowing by this point, back to having a couple of minutes between each one during which the midwife would coach on how to give stronger pushes, breathing patterns.

At one point Jo reached down to touch the head, with a look of utter bewilderment.

I’ve no idea if this pushing part took minutes or an hour, but finally the midwife said “after this one, listen carefully”. With yet another mighty, vein-popping effort, the head was completely out. And it cried – our little baby cried a gentle little cry while only half born, filling the sudden silence of the delivery room. One more to go, and then she was out, our new little girl.

There was no time wasted in lying our new daughter on top of Jo. For me there was always one thing I had imagined at this point which was having the little purple fingers grab mine. They were so tiny, and had a good grip! My little baby grabbing my fingers, my hero wife looking relieved, pained, amazed and proud all at once.

Our shortlist of names was short, and had been for a while. Having decided long ago to refrain from J initials (despite some excellent, and some obvious, choices), we narrowed the list to a likely choice and one other for girls and for boys. I’ve heard stories of babies being born and the parents deciding immediately that their shortlists were wrong, and choosing something completely new – not in our case, and we decided in those first minutes that, yes, she was Eleanor Margot.

The midwife took the name quickly and later came back with a tiny bracelet of letters spelling out her name, much more classy than a normal plastic hospital name band! They weren’t interested in the usual baby metrics until at least a couple of hours later, when they finally measured her vital stats.

Eleanor Margot Kearney

Born 0843CET weighing 3.31kg, and 50cm long

And what a week it’s been since. We’ve been learning about nappies, breastfeeding, cleaning and just how to hold the thing! – basically, how to keep a baby safe. In the meantime we’ve had both of our families here with love and support, and an unexpected return trip to the hospital as Jo had some complications to fix (it’s fine now; modern medicine is nothing short of brilliant).

Ellie’s been generally quiet and sleepy in the day, and generally loud and not sleepy in the least between about midnight and 4am – an early sign of the challenges to sleep that we should expect. While the parents were here it was a delight to see the look on their faces, playing with a first grandchild.

And now it’s just us, our new family of three. I’m writing this at 2am with a beautiful sleeping child across my chest, moaning at me gently in her sleep whenever I mash the keys too hard.

We’ll make that turkey curry one of these days.